Saturday, March 21, 2009


A short intermission in posting due to work circumstances...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shock Xpress - Home Grown British Crud (pt. 2)

This short series of posts features trailers of British horror films mentioned in an article in the second Shock Xpress book, 'For Adults Only! Home Grown British Crud, 1954-1972', by Mike Wathen. The article examines British horror films made by producers hoping to emulate Hammer's success.

First Man Into Space
(Robert Day, 1959)

Curse Of The Fly
(Don Sharp, 1965)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dostoevsky - Notes From The Underground

"I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can't explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well--let it get worse!"

I've just finished reading Dostoevsky's terrifying 1864 book Notes From The Underground. The book was a decisive influence on Georges Bataille. From Michel Surya's excellent biography of Bataille:

"Chestov not only guided Bataille in his reading of Nietzsche, he initiated him into reading Dostoevsky. Everything suggests that this discovery was decisive. The young Bataille might be seen as 'Dostoevskian'; not only because of the explicit reference he made to the great Russian novelist in the sole remaining fragment of his first book W.C.; it may also be inferred by accounts from Métraux, according to whom Bataille wanted to follow the maxim 'everything is permitted' (echoing Dostoevsky's famous axiom 'nothing is true'), and Leiris. He first persuaded Leiris to read Notes From The Underground; in addition, Leiris depicts him at the time as 'frequenting dives and the company of prostitutes like so many heroes of Russian literature'. Leiris also suggests that the hero of Notes From The Underground influenced Bataille 'by his obstinacy in being what in popular terms one calls an "impossible" man, ridiculous and odious beyond limit'. Finally, Leiris portrayed the Bataille of 1924-5 as: 'impossible' certainly, debauched beyond a doubt, and a gambler like many of the heroes of Russian literature in general and Dostoevsky's in particular. Bataille gambled - often with money, and sometimes with his life at Russian roulette."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shock Xpress - Home Grown British Crud (pt. 1)

This short series of posts features trailers of British horror films mentioned in an article in the second Shock Xpress book, 'For Adults Only! Home Grown British Crud, 1954-1972', by Mike Wathen. The article examines British horror films made by producers hoping to emulate Hammer's success.

Devil Girl From Mars
(David MacDonald, 1954)

The Trollenberg Terror
(Quentin Lawrence, 1958)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kristian Vikernes Free?

Fact Magazine reports: "Possibly the most mental bit of news we've had this week: Varg Vikernes, aka legendary black metaller Burzum, to be let out of jail after sixteen years inside for murder." A number of prominent Black Metal adepts have sworn to avenge the death of Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth on the day Vikernes is released from prison.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shock Xpress - Franco Nero (pt. 3)

The second Shock Xpress book contains a short interview with legendary Italian actor Franco Nero by Edwin Pouncey. This is the third and final episode of a short series of posts featuring trailers to some of the films Pouncey discussed with Nero.

(Enzo Castellari, 1976)

Il Cacciatore di Squali
(Enzo Castellari, 1979)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Black Metal Getting Medieval (pt. 2)

Carolyn Dinshaw's 1999 book 'Getting Medieval. Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern' is of interest for commentators on Black Metal in yet another manner than that discussed in the previous post on that book.

In her book, Dinshaw examines relations between contemporary individuals and social groups (queers and republican politicians, amongst others) to the Middle Ages. I did not think these examinations were the most convincing parts of Dinshaw's otherwise fascinating book, as these relationships are described in a rather one-dimensional way. Dinshaw's analysis of Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction, for example, misses out on the fact that viewers can use the film's narrative in many (perverse, inconsistent) ways. Her theory of media reception of that film is still too close to the hypodermic needle theory. Nevertheless, examing relationships between contemporary individuals and social groups and historical periods is a very interesting project.

Researching Dinshaw's book on the internet, and specifically the excellent Medieval Studies blog In The Middle shows that this project has indeed proven to be immensely fertile. The research (and specifically this excellent post) brought up a fascinating article by Elizabeth Freeman (an Americanist, cultural critic, and queer theorist at UC-Davis), “Turn the Beat Around: Sadomasochism, Temporality, History".

In this article, Freeman theorizes that sadomasochism sexually allegorizes a lost form of imperial power, for example medieval feudal power. For example, in sadomasochism, the medieval period is portrayed as a time of drafty castles with dank dungeons, torture, witch hunts, brutal kings and robber knights. Thus, in sadomasochism "...a potential for sex itself to become a kind of historiography, perhaps even an “ahistoriography” (Rohy). [Sadomasochism] in its very insistence upon reanimating historically specific social roles, in the historical elements of its theatrical language, and in using the body as an instrument to rearrange time, Sadean sex becomes a kind of écriture historique. It becomes a form of writing history with the body in which the linearity of history may be called into question, but the past does not thereby cease to exist." Hereby, sadomasochism achieves a historical asynchrony between the quick pace of modern times on the one hand and a slow pace on the other hand, a slow pace imagined to be the pace of the past, a slowness felt as a lack in the present. For Freeman, sadomasochism is a corporeal analysis that redeems the wrongs of the imperial order which it allegorizes: "As a critical technique or mode of analysis enacted with the body erotic, then, sadomasochism offers up temporal means for reconfiguring the possible: the 'slow time' that is at once modernity’s double and its undoing, the sensation that discombobulates normative temporal conditionings, the deviant pause that adds a codicil of pleasure to a legacy of suffering."

Black Metal aficionados are another social group who relate to lost form of imperial power: the power of Viking jarldoms, medieval feudalism, National Socialism, the Priest-Kings of occult brotherhoods. Like sadomasochism, Black Metal employs a theatrical language of historical elements (just think of Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes wearing chain mail armour). In using music to rearrange time, Black Metal becomes a kind of écriture historique.

To an extent, Black Metal can be said to be structured similarly to (Freeman's conception of) sadomasochism.

However, the redemptive nature of Black Metal is another matter entirely. Burzum and other forms of NSBM exalt the past forms of imperial power not to redeem their wrongs but to nostalgically celebrate them. Atheistic Satanist (LaVeyan) Black Metal bands aim to reconfigure the present social order in order to form another, one that is egotistic and amoral; but this other social order is so deeply informed by the values of Hollywood's entertainment complex it is light years removed from Freeman's vision of queerly redemptive sadomasochism. Theistic Satanist (Mayhem, the Norma Evangelium Diaboli scene), Depressive and Nihilistic Black Metal bands do not make their transgressions subservient to any future redemption at all. These strains of Black Metal relate to lost form of imperial power not so much as a critical technique or a mode of analysis, nor a means to reconfigure the possible, but as a mode of disconfiguring, as a technique of the impossible.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Shock Xpress - Franco Nero (pt. 2)

The second Shock Xpress book contains a short interview with legendary Italian actor Franco Nero by Edwin Pouncey. This is the second episode of a short series of posts featuring trailers to some of the films Pouncey discussed with Nero.

Il Mercenario
(Sergio Corbucci, 1968)

Vamos A Matar, Compañeros (Sergio Corbucci, 1970)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Black Metal Getting Medieval

I've just finished reading Carolyn Dinshaw's 1999 book Getting Medieval. Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. The book examines and constructs relations between contemporary queer communities on the one hand and medieval dissident figures and groups: prostitutes, heretics, sodomites. I became intrigued about Dinshaw's work through the medieval studies blogs In The Middle and The Medieval Club of New York (to which Nicola Masciandaro is an occasional contributor).

Dinshaw aims for a tactile historiography, focusing on bodies touching each other across many boundaries: those of space and time and text and death, inter alia. Her desire to touch, informed by the work of Roland Barthes, aims to create transhistorical communities consisting of those who are not like others: the queer.

What would such a desire mean for the historiography of that strange dissident community, which has been the subject of many posts of this blog: the Black Metal Inner Circle?

Two of the central episodes of the history of the Black Metal Inner Circle put bodies touching each other center stage: the episode of Dead's suicide and the episode of the murder of Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth. Both 'touchings' dramatically took place on the limen of life and death.

The first touching: 'Dead' Per Yngve Ohlin, a young Black Metal musician, aged only 22, kills himself with a shotgun round to the head in a house on Sørumvein Road, Kråkstad, Norway. His still-warm body, dressed in a black jacket and a white "I Love Transylvania" t-shirt, is touched by his fellow band member Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth, is touched to be rearranged for aesthetic purposes: photographs are taken to be used on the record sleeve of the 'Dawn of the Black Hearts' album, and (according to Black Metal legend) fragments of Ohlin's skull are collected and forged into talismanic necklaces.

The second touching: Christian 'Varg' Vikernes, former protegé and bosom friend of rings on the door of Aarseth's flat in Oslo. Aarseth, dressed only in his underwear, lets him in. Vikernes stabs Aarseth's half-naked body with a knife, from behind, to the point of excess. Vikernes's accomplice, Snorre 'Blackthorn' Ruch: "We had intended this to happen in the appartment, and fast - no big, dramatic thing with a hundred knife-stabs or something." What had been intended as a cold-blooded murder turned into a disorganized, unrestrained, inordinate performance. According to official reports Aarseth received a total of twenty-three wounds: two to the head, five to the neck, and sixteen to the back. Can the fact that Aarseth is murderously penetrated from behind be said to mean that the murder touches upon sodomy - an act that was exalted by the Satanist Aarseth as 'evil'? Whatever the case may be, in the March 27th 1993 issue of the Metal magazine Kerrang!, Vikernes appeared half-naked in the snow, bragging about his crimes. Vikernes's naked upper body rhymes with that of his victim.

What do these 'touchings' mean to me? Dinshaw's book prompted me to face the corporeal, tactile aspects of my continuing fascination with the drama that unfolded in the Black Metal Inner Circle.

If I were - with Dinshaw - to suppose that this fascination is informed by a desire to form a tactile transhistorical community with that Circle, with a desire to touch the protagonists of that drama, there is one photograph to which I must point.

It is a photograph of Aarseth taken in the legendary Helvete record shop, which functioned as the scene's temenos.

Aarseth is portrayed in a medium shot, from a straight-on angle, on a horizontal level, in an oblique profile. Aarseth himself seems to be posing, but the pose is uneasy. It looks as if he wasn't prepared to be portrayed.
From the point of view of Black Metal iconography, the picture contains only few orthodox motifs. There is no corpse paint, Aarseth is not wearing a theatrical costume. As an object of studious contemplation (Roland Barthes' 'studium'), the only interesting things about this photograph are the record sleeves and a Godflesh poster ('Pure') that can be seen in the background. One of the record sleeves, of Pungent Stench's 1991 album 'Been Caught Buttering', features Joel-Peter Witkin's 'The Kiss', showing two male corpses kissing each other on the mouth. An inverted cross hangs above a door.

Aarseth himself looks tired, he is badly shaven and his long black hair appears to be uncombed.
He is squinting his eyes. Around his waist is a bullet belt. His faded black Mayhem t-shirt is cut-off, exposing his white arms and belly.

The white belly - the belly button specifically - is the element in the photograph which touches me. Roland Barthes: “The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium. This time it is not I who seek it out (as I invest the field of the studium with my sovereign consciousness), it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive point; precisely, these marks, these wounds are so many points. This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole - and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me but also bruises me, is poignant to me.

Post scriptum

Scan of Kerrang! magazine courtesy of Full Moon Productions.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Shock Xpress - Franco Nero (pt. 1)

The second Shock Xpress book contains a short interview with legendary Italian actor Franco Nero by Edwin Pouncey, who is also known as Savage Pencil. One day I'll post a tribute to Edwin Pouncey on this blog, like the one I wrote about Stefan Jaworzyn. Pouncey's done his bit for Black Metal and other varieties of Noise.

This is the first episode of a short series of posts featuring trailers to some of the films Pouncey discussed with Nero. In this episode, all films are from 1966 - a peak year for Italian exploitation.

Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)

Tempo Di Massacro (Lucio Fulci, 1966)

Texas, Addio
(Ferdinando Baldi, 1966)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Deviations From Nature

"Among all things that can be contemplated under the concavity of the heavens, nothing is seen that arouses the human spirit more, that ravishes the senses more, that horrifies more, that provokes more terror or admiration to a greater extent among creatures than the monsters, prodigies, and abominations through which we see the work of nature inverted, mutilated, and truncated.

This remark by Pierre Boaistuau can be found at the beginning of his Histoires Prodigieuses, a work published in 1561, in other words during a period of public calamities. Prodigies and monsters were regarded in the past as presages and, most often, as such, as birds of ill omen. Boaistuau had the merit of devoting his book to monsters without worrying about augury, and of recognizing to what extent men are eager for stupefaction."

The foregoing words open an short essay by Georges Bataille, published in 1930 in Documents, the dissident Surrealist journal which inspired this blog.

The images which accompany this post are from Boaistuau's book; more can be found here, at the Wellcome Collection.

I found more information about Boaistuau's book in Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park's 1998 book 'Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750'. There I read:

"Perhaps the clearest index of the sensitivity of the literature of monsters to external political and religious circumstances was the much reprinted six-volume French series of Histoires prodigieuses. Although the first two volumes, by Pierre Boaistuau (1560) and Claude Tesserant (1567), linked monsters and other prodigies to divine punishment, they suggested other, less ominous interpretations as well. According to Boaistuau, the main cause of monstrous births was divine judgment, swift and terrible, visited upon the sexually incontinent or bestial as a visible sign of "the horror of their sin". Yet he mentioned in the next breath the natural causes of the maternal imagination, excess of deficiency of seed, and indisposition of the uterus. Thus a child with four arms and legs, born on the day the Genoan and Venetian forces made peace, was at once the divine sign of brotherly reconciliation and the result of a narrow womb.

Tesserant thought monsters born in 1487 in Padua and Venice might have been the fearful presages of the misfortunes soon to be visited upon Italy, but he remarked concerning conjoined twins born near Heidelberg in 1486 ('very wondrous, for the rarity of the example') that no misfortunes and indeed 'almost nothing remarkable' had happened in Germany during that year. The Histoires prodigieuses' third, fourth, and fifth volumes, on the other hand, appeared between 1575 and 1582, at the height of the French wars of religion; they insisted unequivocally that all monsters were prodigies, sent directly by God to admonish Christians to 'repentance and penitence.' In contrast, the anonymous author of the sixth volume, published in 1594, during a lull in the hostilities, worried that earlier volumes might have bored their audience and promised to 'give more pleasure to readers for the most part curious about stories of wondrous things.' Although he indicated that the years between 1567 and 1573 had been particularly fertile in monsters, because of God's righteous indignation against Protestant heretics who had risen up against the true faith, he construed the word 'prodigious' in his title to mean not only portents but also all things that are 'not ordinary and ... have caused great wonder [grande admiration].

Thus, in addition to signaling the sensitivity of the horror complex to political and religious circumstances, the volumes of the Histoires Prodigieuses indicate that monsters could excite pleasure as well."